Sandy • Sam Johnson has been in and out of the starting lineup in recent weeks. He was benched last month for being late to a team meeting, then had his minutes monitored at times due to a lingering knee issue.
But in Saturday’s game against Sporting Kansas City, the Real Salt Lake striker reminded all 18,933 fans at Rio Tinto Stadium why Utah brought him here. Johnson scored two goals and led RSL to a 2-0 win over Sporting KC.
Real scored both goals in the first half and had a couple of opportunities to add to the lead in the second. Sporting, on the other hand, struggled to get chances all evening.
Saturday’s game wasn’t just another matchup between old rivals. It was a game with immense playoff implications seeing as how RSL and SKC were just a point apart in the Western Conference standings and both below the playoff line heading into the game.
It was RSL that prevailed, but the club didn’t propel itself into the playoff picture exactly halfway into the Major League Soccer regular season.
In an unlikely sequence, RSL put away its first goal on a set piece from a corner kick, a play from which it does not score much. Albert Rusnák sent the ball into Damir Kreilach, who high-kicked it to Kyle Beckerman. The RSL captain headed the ball toward Sam Johnson, who was in the perfect position to finish.
Sporting playing with a high defensive line burned them on Real’s second goal. Rusnák beat an SKC defender in a footrace to the ball and ignited a four-on-two counter attack. He played the ball backward to Kreilach, who looked like he was going to take the shot himself. But Johnson beat him to the touch for the finish right in front of the goal. Johnson now has seven goals on the season.
“To be honest, I didn’t see him,” Kreilach said of Johnson. “I just take first touch and want just to shoot it. But overall, the most important thing, he scored. Every one of us should be happy.”
Kreilach almost got his goal in the 85th minute, but the referee ruled he was offsides.
Rusnák thought RSL had a better first half compared to the second. He said the wind became strong and it affected both teams in the second half. But he was pleased with the performance nonetheless.
“Overall, a perfect game, I think,” Rusnák said.
Salt Lake needed this game on a night when Minnesota and San Jose both rose in the standings with wins against Cincinnati and the L.A. Galaxy, respectively.
RSL won’t have much time to bask in the euphoria of beating its rival. The club plays Wednesday against Columbus Crew before traveling to San Jose for a road match against the Earthquakes next weekend.